Rise of the Dalit 'Bhaiya'

Swipe at leadership, call to unite with Muslims & OBCs against 'saffron terror'

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 22.05.17
Chandrashekhar Azad addresses the rally in New Delhi on Sunday

New Delhi, May 21: Young Dalits today mobilised behind an emerging spearhead, derided if not disowned the community's mainstream leadership and delighted in the absence of the "Dalit elite".

Chandrashekhar Azad "Raavan", the hunted chief of the Uttar Pradesh-based Bhim Army who had been underground since May 9, told Dalits to join hands with Muslims and the OBCs against "saffron terror".

He was addressing a 6,000-plus crowd at Jantar Mantar Road that transformed itself into a sea of blue side caps. The 29-year-old lawyer had shaved his trademark moustache off, wore a crepe bandage on his right hand and refused to don a blue turban presented by supporters though he held on to it for a while.

"As long as I live, I will fight for our community. I will shoot those who betray us," the leader of the self-avowedly "non-violent, apolitical" outfit said, sounding more aggressive than usual. "I won't accept this turban (a symbol of Dalit self-assertion) until the saffron terror ends."

Chandrashekhar had earlier put up a video on a website asking supporters to attend the rally, saying he would come over-ground there.

"On this day in 1851, Colombia ended slavery. Today we end slavery. We are neither lowly and untouchable, nor inferior. Hum sabke baap hain (We are bigger than all). I assure Yadavs, OBCs, Dalits and Valmiki brothers, we'll fight together," he said. "Our fight will not be in the field of politics. Politicians have to beg for votes with folded hands. Their hands are tied. We bow before none."

Chandrashekhar tore into mainstream Dalit politicians. "Take an oath that you won't send such useless MPs from reserved seats again. Those who remain quiet when atrocities are heaped upon their sisters should have their faces blackened," he said.

Two students at the rally, Pawan and Atul, told The Telegraph: "Behenji (Mayawati) was our leader; Bhaiya (Chandrashekhar) is our new leader."

Uttar Pradesh police have accused Chandrashekhar of leading a violent Dalit agitation on May 9 in Saharanpur city, western Uttar Pradesh, protesting a Thakur-Dalit clash in nearby Shabbirpur village that claimed a life.

A second FIR accuses him of defaming chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Facebook and WhatsApp. Officers have compared him with Maoists although they have provided no evidence of his outfit carrying any weapons apart from stones and clubs.

While the state's police have carried out raids at several places looking for Chandrashekhar, they have not declared him an absconder or obtained an arrest warrant. Delhi police, who had refused permission for today's rally, did not arrest him or try to beak up the nearly six-hour event.

Several lawyers had turned up in their black coats. One of them, Jagdish Prasad, said: "We Dalits have voted for the BSP but now, when an educated lawyer like Chandrashekhar is hitting back at the upper castes, we have naturally come out in support. We don't need any party to mobilise."

Local BSP leaders who had climbed onto the dais in the morning were asked to step down.

Raj Kamal, a student, highlighted the absence of the "Dalit elite". "Besides Mohandas Nemishray and Suraj Pal Chauhan, no eminent Dalit writer is here. Look around you, there are no politicians or members of the Dalit elite. It is just us Dalit youth," he told this newspaper.

"Our leaders must understand that they are completely cut off from the anger we feel. That's why we have found new leaders like Chandrashekhar and Jignesh Mevani (a young activist who had led the Dalit protests in Gujarat after the Una flogging last year)."

Mevani helped marshal today's crowd along with several Ambedkarite and student groups, including JNU student leaders.

"Like the thousands of Dalits who dealt a slap to the BJP by rallying after Una, you have done so today," Mevani, 36, told the gathering.

Later, speaking to The Telegraph, Mevani hit out at leading Dalit politicians such as Mayawati, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, Republican Party of India (Athawale) chief Ramdas Athawale and BJP Lok Sabha member Udit Raj.

"The sheer anger among Dalits against the increase in attacks under the (Narendra) Modi and Yogi (Adityanath) governments was seen today," he said. "Athawale, Udit Raj, Paswan and Mayawati have failed to articulate this rage. That's why young Dalits have taken to the streets to fill the vacuum these leaders have created."

Chandrashekhar said he would soon surrender to the police and named several "commanders" who would lead his group after his arrest.

One of them, Ravi Gautam, said the Uttar Pradesh police had "raided" a Bhim Army meeting last night in Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave.

Many at the rally said the Uttar Pradesh police had stopped their vehicles on their way to Delhi, forcing them to take public transport or bribe the cops.

Addressing the crowd, Chandrashekhar compared himself to Raavan and lauded Udham Singh, the freedom fighter who assassinated former Punjab lieutenant governor Michael O'Dwyer to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

"If the police call those who defend their own community Naxalites, then I accept being a Naxalite. Those who call me an RSS agent, I tell you I'm an agent of those women who stopped eating after I went into hiding. I'm a follower of Kanshi Ram and Udham Singh," he said.

"My ideology is not dirty and that's why my suffix is 'Raavan'. He sacrificed everything for his sister's honour but did not lay a finger on Sita even after abducting her. I am the son of Kanshi Ram who said he won't build a house for himself or amass wealth."